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Friday, February 13, 2009

“Southeast Smackdown” may have been more accurate

Posted by on Fri, Feb 13, 2009 at 3:01 PM

So. How to describe last night’s miserable showing against the Florida Panthers.

Let me just start out by saying that I did not attend the game last night. I actually watching the Flyers take on the Senators in Philadelphia, which turned out to be a better choice. However, I watched first two periods and the highlights – and there weren’t many – from the third, and I think I have a pretty good grasp on what went down. Let’s start out by acknowledging that the ‘Canes had their chances, to the tune of 42 shots on Tomas Vokoun and several shots off the crossbar. But after a defensive meltdown in the first and two quick goals in the second, it was clear that another comeback was not in the cards.

The announced sell-out crowd of 18,680 had to watch their money go down the tubes as only one team showed up to play – and it wasn’t the home team. In the preview of this game, I said one of the more important factors of this game would be seeing if the ‘Canes can play under pressure. If this is how the Hurricanes will continue to play in games of consequence, perhaps they don’t deserve to make the postseason.

It would be easy to blame the ‘Canes management for messing with a winning formula. Jakub Petruzalek and Michael Ryan were reassigned to Albany after playing very well on that western road swing against some good teams. Rod Brind’Amour was reinserted into the line-up, and there were plenty of reasons to be wary of this move. However, Brind’Amour can not be faulted; although he didn’t score, he played a solid game. He wasn’t on the ice for any of Carolina’s five goals allowed and he won 72 percent of his face-offs. Though he has been a bit of a liability this season, he came to play last night.

I wish I could say the same for the Hurricanes’ defense. The ‘Canes’ top defensive pairing of Tim Gleason, the future of Carolina’s defensive core, and Joe Corvo, the stalwart workhorse who leads the league in game-winning goals by D-men, were on the ice for four of Florida’s five goals. Corvo’s alter-ego, “Uh Oh Joe,” made a glorious reappearance last night and decided to party like it was 2005. Corvo coughed the puck up along the boards to Florida players twice in the first period, and both mistakes led to goals.

Of course, it wasn’t all Corvo’s fault. The Staal-Ruutu-Samsonov line was on for three Florida goals, including the ones scored 12 seconds apart in the second period. A visibly frustrated Ward was pulled after that last goal, but Leighton didn’t fare much better. Michael Frolik corralled a rebound off the post and put it past Leighton. The Panthers then put it in cruise control, and the ‘Canes went through the motions needed to get back to the locker room.

If I had to pick a Hurricane MVP for this game – and, of course, that pretty much translates to who screwed up the least – it would be Joni Pitkanen. (Fancy that.) Staal had 11 shots on goal and that can’t be overlooked, but Pitkanen played just over 25 minutes and wasn’t on the ice for a single goal. He and Anton Babchuk (who played for nearly as long but didn’t register a shot on goal, while Pitkanen had three) must have been doing something right…or at least, didn’t do anything glaringly wrong that led to another goal light dancing above their heads.

Obviously, there are implications associated with this game, and not just in the standings. Yes, Florida is now three points ahead of the ‘Canes with a game in hand, and they have the series lead should it come down to a tie-breaker. However, the more disconcerting thing about this game was that the Hurricanes had an almost completely intact roster, all the momentum coming off a successful road trip, plenty of time to rest, motivation to move up in the standings, a healthy starting goaltender, the home advantage and a sell-out crowd…and couldn’t manage to score one goal. These are all very real concerns.

If the Hurricanes fall even further back tomorrow night against Columbus, an alarmed Rutherford might start making some moves. Rutherford has remained quiet at the deadline for the past few years, insisting that he was proud of the group in the RBC Center locker room. However, with the conference and the division as strong as it is, it could be time to shake things up.

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